Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes
High altitude hasn't been a problem literally or figuratively for the Chiefs and they will be looking to maintain their winning impetus at home to the Hurricanes on Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 18 – Chiefs 7, Hurricanes 10, Draws 1.
LAST TIME: June 10, 2011 - Chiefs 18-18 Hurricanes.
WALKING WOUNDED: The Hurricanes are bolstered by the return of halfback TJ Perenara from his ankle injury, wing Julian Savea from illness and wing Cory Jane from an ankle injury. The Chiefs' performances have been helped by their relative lack of debilitating injuries and their stocks have been boosted with the return of halfback Brendon Leonard this week.
Round 5: bye
Round 6: beat Waratahs 30-13 (h)
Round 7: beat Force 20-12 (a)
Round 8: beat Cheetahs 39-33 (a)
Round 9: beat Sharks 18-12 (a)
Round 5: beat Blues 26-25 (a)
Round 6: lost to Cheetahs 38-47 (h)
Round 7: beat Sharks 42-18 (h)
Round 8: bye
Round 9: lost to Crusaders 14-42 (h)
The Chiefs have every reason to be well satisfied with their efforts this season and an undefeated tour will have added to that feeling. But on home turf they have a test of their stamina against a Hurricanes side that has been a little wayward after an impressive start to the year. However, the sight of first five-eighths Aaron Cruden controlling things so well is an assurance for the side. Cruden is the best performed of New Zealand's goal-kickers with an 80 percent success rate but right behind him is his rival for the night Beauden Barrett. The Chiefs may not be the highest try scorers in the competition, and their backs while potentially dangerous have not really hit their straps collectively. That is reflected in prop Sona Taumalolo being their highest try scorer. However, Lelia Masaga has been impressing in recent weeks.
By comparison, the Hurricanes have lived up to their reputations to share the top try scoring berth with the Bulls with 28, however, they have conceded 22 tries which suggests their defences could be put to the test this week. After a promising start the Hurricanes have hit a speed bump against the Crusaders and it is a case of attempting to find the sort of form that made such short work of the Sharks in New Plymouth.
Fullback Andre Taylor has been a key performer, although having his moments last week against the Crusaders. The return of Perenara at halfback could be crucial in giving the backline the start it needs while the role of centre and captain Conrad Smith will be important as well. Any looseness in the Hurricanes pack, such as they exploited by the Crusaders, will be similarly punished by the Chiefs. Taumalolo is a danger if he gets a scent of the goal-line for the Chiefs while flanker Tanerau Latimer has been impressive and Liam Messam has been a consistent performer. The contest between Perenara and the returning Leonard around the rucks and mauls could be a stunner in its own right. Andrew Horrell has also been in fine shape at fullback in recent outings.
WE THINK: This could be a thrilling encounter if the Hurricanes are able to bring their best form. The inclination is that the home team is performing consistently well and will still be too strong for the visitors, but it is the mercurial quality the Hurricanes can bring when they get a high degree of momentum that can make them so tough to contain. All that said, it is a different Chiefs team in operation this year and they should be 10 points better.
Chiefs 1. Sona Taumalolo, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (capt), 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11.Tim Nanai Williams, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Andrew Horrell.
Replacements: 16. Mahonri Schwalger, 17. Toby Smith, 18. Michael Fitzgerald, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Augustine Pulu, 21 Jackson Willison, 22. Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Hurricanes1. Ben May, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Victor Vito, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith (captain), 14. Cory Jane, 15. Andre Taylor.
Replacements: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. Mark Reddish, 19. Jack Lam, 20. Chris Eaton , 21. Charlie Ngatai, 22. Alipate Leiua.